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Official bonds

Is it possible to put a price on good behavior?

That’s the kind of question that has to cross your mind, late at night, when you’re sitting there at your computer, poking around one more time in those old unindexed court records.

This time, the records were the official bonds, one of several sets of unindexed court records available for Lake County, Montana.

Lake County’s official website will tell you that its county seat is Polson, it’s located in northwestern Montana, and it’s the state’s ninth most populous with 26,904 residents. The first recorded settlement in the county was in 1854, it’s home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation and its natural features include the Mission Valley and Mission Mountain Range, Flathead Lake, the National Bison Range, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.1

Since at least as early as 1895, Montana law has required that many types of officials — both elected and appointed, and at both the state and local levels — give a bond to guarantee their good behavior in their public offices.

Specifically, the law required the official to “well, truly and faithfully perform all official duties then required of him by law, and also all such additional duties as may be imposed on him by any law or the State, and that he will account for and pay over and deliver to the person or officer entitled to receive the same, all moneys or other property that may come into his hands as such officer.” And the bond had to be signed both by the principal — the officer himself — and two sureties — people who’d end up having to pay if the officer fouled up.2 Anybody who felt himself injured or aggrieved by the wrongful act of the officer in his official capacity could bring suit on the bond, to recover damages.3

That’s pretty much still the law there today.4

In general, the purpose of requiring a bond of a public official was and is to provide a solid financial incentive for the official to keep to the straight and narrow. So just what was the price of good behavior in Lake County, Montana? And what else do those bonds tell us?

The first thing we can get from the official bond records is a kind of a census of the public officials of Lake County as it got itself organized and underway in 1923, when it was formed from parts of Missoula and Flathead Counties:

     • Dawley A. Cubbage, Clerk of District Court, $5,000.5
     • Mark H. Derr, County Attorney, $1,000.6
     • Lyman C. Hall, County Assessor, $4,000.7
     • L.C. Hitchcock, Justice of the Peace, $2,000.8
     • Chris J. Hoeschen, Coroner, $2,000.9
     • Carl Iverson, County Treasurer, $25,000.10.
     • Godfrey Johnson, constable, $2,000.11
     • W.R. Kelly, Sheriff, $6,000.12
     • H.N. Lambeth, Justice of the Peace, $2,000.13
     • M.M. Marcy, Clerk and Recorder, $5,000.14
     • A. Sutherland, Justice of the Peace, $2,000.15
     • J.A. Trow, Public Administrator, $5,000.16

We can see what kind of folks were chosen for these positions. It makes sense, for example, that both Chris J. Hoeschen, the first coroner, and his replacement, Arthur C. Retz, were the local undertakers.17 And that the treasurer Iverson was vice president of a bank.18 The sheriff was a Canadian-born farmer.19 The Justice of the Peace Hitchcock had a home real estate office.20

We can see that — consistent with the times — those chosen initially and for some years thereafter were all white men. And we can see when the first woman showed up as an official in Lake County. Mary Louise Graves became county Superintendent of Schools in 1942, posting a bond for $1,000.21 And how long it took for the first woman official to show up in the records who wasn’t a superintendent of schools. That was Hazel Kinnick, who posted a bond for $6,000 as Clerk and Recorder in 1951.22 And, in fairness, we should note that Mary V. Johnson got the contract, and had to post a bond, for doing the county’s printing work as early as 1928.23

We can even see how long these folks stayed in office. For example, Dawley Cubbage was Clerk of the District Court for several years, posting bonds again in 1924 and 1928.24 H.N. Lambeth’s last bond as a Justice of the Peace was in 1932.25 J.A. Trow was replaced as Public Administrator in 1924 by Walter F. Fellows, who posted his own $5,000 bond.26 And Chris J. Hoeschen was replaced as Coroner by A.C. Retz in 1924.27

Yes, we can get a pretty good picture of what this county was like back when it began nearly 90 years ago… from just one small set of unindexed court records.

Not to mention the price that the county, and the law, put on good behavior.


  1. Some Information about Lake County,” Lake County Montana ( : accessed 5 Sep 2012). I have to note, for the record, that the town I live in has more than four times as many people as all of Lake County.
  2. Part I, Chapter VII, Article IX, § 1057, in Wilbur F. Sanders, editor, The Complete Codes and Statutes of the State of Montana: In Force July 1, 1895 (Helena, Montana : p.p., 1895), 78; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 6 Sep 2012).
  3. Ibid., § 1064, at 79.
  4. See Montana Code § 2-9-504 for the bond conditions; § 2-9-527 for the right to sue on the bond.
  5. Lake County, Montana, Index to Official Bonds, Vol. 1, arranged by letter of alphabet and then date, entry for Dawley A. Cubbage, 1923, Lake County Courthouse, Polson, Montana; “Montana, Lake County Records, 1857-2010, Court Records” database and digital images, FamilySearch ( accessed 5 Sep 2012).
  6. Ibid., entry for Mark H. Derr, 1923.
  7. Ibid., entry for Lyman C. Hall, 1923.
  8. Ibid., entry for L.C. Hitchcock, 1923.
  9. Ibid., entry for Chris J. Hoeschen, 1923.
  10. Ibid., entry for Carl Iverson, 1923.
  11. Ibid., entry for Godfrey Johnson, 1923.
  12. Ibid., entry for W.R. Kelly, 1923.
  13. Ibid., entry for H.N. Lambeth, 1923.
  14. Ibid., entry for M.M. Marcy, 1923.
  15. Ibid., entry for A. Sutherland, 1923.
  16. Ibid., entry for J.A. Trow, 1923.
  17. 1920 U.S. census, Missoula County, Montana, St. Ignatius, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 169, p. 224(A) (stamped), dwelling 128, family 129, Chris J. Hoeschen; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Sep 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 973; imaged from FHL microfilm 1820973. Also, 1920 U.S. census, Flathead County, Montana, Polson, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 51, p. 185(B) (stamped), dwelling 486, family 490, Arthur C. Retz; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Sep 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 971; imaged from FHL microfilm 1820971.
  18. 1920 U.S. census, Missoula Co., Mont., Pablo, pop. sched., ED 170, p. 255(B) (stamped), dwell. 402, fam. 406, Carl Iverson.
  19. 1920 U.S. census, Missoula Co., Mont., St. Ignatius, pop. sched., ED 169, p. 227(A) (stamped), dwell. 198, fam. 199, Wilbert R. Kelly.
  20. 1920 U.S. census, Flathead Co., Mont., Polson, pop. sched., ED 51, p. 181(B) (stamped), dwell. 408, fam. 412, Lymon C. Hitchcock.
  21. Lake Co., Mont., Index to Official Bonds, Vol. 1, entry for Mary Louise Graves, 1942.
  22. Ibid., entry for Hazel Kinnick, 1951.
  23. Ibid., entry for Mary V. Johnson, 1928.
  24. Ibid., entries for Dawley A. Cubbage, 1924, 1928.
  25. Ibid., entry for H.N. Lambeth, 1932.
  26. Ibid., entry for Walter F. Fellows, 1924.
  27. Ibid., entry for A.C. Retz, 1924.
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